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Man Bites Dog

"When a dog bites a man, that is not news … but if a man bites a dog that is news”

That saying has been attributed to multiple newspapermen – and for the most part is true – no one covers the plane that doesn’t crash or oftentimes the stories that simply happen again and again, no matter how tragic (like violent crime in low-income, inner city communities). Two “Man Bites Dog” stories jumped out at me recently, one which has gotten lots of play, one that deserves to get more.

Let’s start with the story that received national attention – CVS Caremark announced last week that as of October 1st, they will no longer sell tobacco products. In doing so they will forego between $1.5 and $2 billion in annual sales – but as a company that sees itself as one dedicated to the health of its customer, “..the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose,” said CVS CEO Larry J. Merlo. Bravo. It is not often you see a company willingly leave money on the table and do the right thing – although it does happen more often than you realize as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden pointed out in this piece in the Huffington Post.

Many of us in the non-profit sector, in fact, rely on the for-profit sector to do the right thing – it is the only way we can make progress on major social issues. We see that willingness to do the right thing through our Too Small to Fail partnership with Univision, a forward thinking company that cares deeply about its bond with its audience. As Univision CEO Larry Falco told me at our recent launch event in New York, “Our viewers trust us to provide them with the information they need to navigate their lives, and we value that trust.” We at Next Generation have been amazed to see how Univision is mentioned, unprompted, as one of the most trusted information sources in focus groups of low-income Hispanics. 

I would be remiss if I did not also mention the heroic work that has been done through the years by our other Too Small to Fail partner, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, who have been pioneers through the years in working with corporations to address social good. I witnessed this up close when I worked at the Kaiser Family Foundation where the Clinton Foundation led the way in getting pharmaceutical companies to deeply discount HIV/AIDS drugs which saved countless lives in Africa and around the world.

In a similar vein, the members of our Risk Committee for Risky Business all have vast backgrounds and connections in the private sector – which, for better and for worse, faces an ever- growing need to grapple with the consequences of climate change. Whether it’s managing the climate-driven threats to coastal property investments, or looking for possible opportunities in the innovations that will be necessary in our system of agriculture, our Risk Committee members fully understand that, when it comes to climate change, doing the right thing is very closely aligned with doing what’s fiscally prudent.

The second “Man Bites Dog” story is the tale of the Republican mayor who recognized the dangers of climate change, embraced sustainability and has become wildly popular in his home state.  Bob Dixson is the mayor of Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was struck by a powerful tornado in 2007 which resulted in eleven deaths and destroyed 95 percent of the town.  Bob Dixson lost his home along with many other residents.  So what did he do?  He ran for mayor on a platform of taking on climate change and rebuilding Greensburg as a sustainable community.  He won, is now in his second term and has led the reconstruction of the town as a sustainable community, replete with wind turbines, solar panels, and new public buildings, schools and a hospital built with sustainable architecture principles.  As Mayor Dixson recounted in this NPR news story, "When we drilled down closer to it ... we realized our heritage and ancestors were based on those sustainable, green principles," he says. "If you take care of the land, it will take care of you."

He is, of course, correct. Sustainability, conservation and protecting and preserving the land are common practices among farmers, ranchers and others who depend on the natural environment for their livelihoods – be they Republicans, Democrats or Independents.

I have a couple of close friends who are well-known Republican political operatives. They both get that climate change is real and that our carbon-burning habit is a major cause.  I have told them both that the first one of them that finds a candidate who embraces a climate and sustainability agenda and crafts the campaign strategy to win will make a lot of money – because this is an issue that will eventually need to be embraced by candidates of all political stripes as the consequences of climate change become more and more apparent.

“GOP Candidate Takes Senate Seat on Platform of Sustainability and Fighting Climate Change.” That will be a real-life “Man Bites Dog” story in the not-too-distant future.

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